New laws taking effect: More than 200 new state laws go into effect Saturday. They include offering taxpayer-funded vouchers to all Florida students and eliminating income-eligibility requirements, expanding restrictions on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing public-address systems to be used for prayers at school events, prohibiting colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, banning TikTok from school electronic devices, imposing eight-year term limits on school board members, requiring school districts to share local property-tax revenues with charter schools, requiring people to use school and public bathrooms that align with their gender identity at birth, and more. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. One of the new bills allows people to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training and also cuts the number of required active shooter drills in schools from 10 to 6 per school year. WPTV.
No injunction against union law: Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker declined Monday to issue a preliminary injunction against a new state law that places new restrictions on teachers and other public employee unions. The Florida Education Association and other unions had asked him to block parts of the law requiring union members to fill out new government-worded membership forms and preventing union dues from being deducted from workers’ paychecks, contending they violate First Amendment and contract rights. Walker disagreed, ruling that the unions had not shown they had legal standing, and that the law does not require unions to spread government messages. His decision allows the law to move forward, but does not end the lawsuit. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.
Around the state: Broward school board members’ reversal of a proposal requiring students to have clear backpacks by the fall caused problems for parents and community organizations, the jury has begun deliberations in the child neglect case against a school deputy who took cover instead of confronting a Parkland school shooter in 2018, Sarasota’s newly named school superintendent reaches a tentative agreement on a contract, Brevard’s superintendent is proposing to eliminate the jobs of two longtime administrators in a reorganization plan, Brevard school board members angry with verbal abuse directed at a book review committee by the public are considering taking over the authority to approve or reject challenged library books, and initial reviews of social studies textbooks under consideration for use in Florida show many being initially flagged by reviewers who mischaracterized basic facts as biased, inappropriate, or ideological. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Broward: A decision May 5 to require students to have clear backpacks in the fall that was overturned June 13 has left parents and community organizations scrambling. Many had already purchased the clear bags, and in some cases the window in which they could be returned had closed. School board members conceded that they could have handled the situation differently. “I think the board is appropriately interested in doing anything to improve safety and security, and when an opportunity came up to do that, we moved faster than we do on other things,” said Allen Zeman. “We were trying to strike a balance between getting information out so we could be ready for the next school year and getting public comment. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way in the future.” Sun-Sentinel. In his closing arguments Monday, a prosecutor said a deputy put his own life ahead of 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff who were killed by a gunman in 2018. Scot Peterson, the prosecutor said, took cover instead of entering the building where the shooting was taking place, giving the gunman more time to kill. Peterson’s attorneys contend that most of the people testifying could not say where the shots were coming from, and if Peterson had left his spot and people were killed in that area he could have been prosecuted for that, too. “He was damned no matter what,” his attorney said. Jurors began deliberating later Monday and will resume today. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. CNN. WLRN. WFOR. A new Xceed Preparatory Academy for middle and high school students will open in downtown Fort Lauderdale early in 2024, company officials have announced. The school stresses mastery of a subject instead of time spent in school, and gives students flexibility to work their education around extracurricular activities and family time. K-12 Dive.
Pinellas: Eighty-seven school books are being reviewed this summer by district media specialists, who are scheduled to make recommendations in July. Sixty of the books have been flagged by the state, and the rest have characters or themes dealing with minorities and underrepresented social groups. Pinellas Park High media specialist Ginger Brengle, who sits on the review team, said the model is following state advice “to err on the side of caution.” Tampa Bay Times. A St. Petersburg charter school teacher who died trying to rescue a drowning girl in Lake Michigan in June 2022 is being honored by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission with a medal that is considered to be “North America’s highest civilian honor for heroism.” Thomas Kenning was a 38-year-old middle-school social studies teacher at Plato Academy Pinellas Park. WFLA. WFTS.
Lee: School officials are looking to fill about 400 teaching positions, including about 70 in special education. School officials blame the high cost of housing, worsened by damage caused by Hurricane Ian last September, an increasing cost of living, and fewer candidates for open jobs. “We are trying to work closely with some of our community partners addressing some of those needs, especially with housing and relocation,” said Suzette Rivera, the district’s director of recruitment. WFTX.
Brevard: A district reorganization chart that eliminates the positions of two longtime, high-ranking administrators will be presented to the school board at today’s meeting. Superintendent Mark Rendell is proposing that the jobs of assistant superintendent of secondary leading and learning, held by Stephanie Soliven, and assistant superintendent for elementary leading and learning, led by Jane Cline, be eliminated. Soliven has been with the district 29 years and Cline more than 30 years. Their positions would be replaced with a chief of schools, who will oversee leadership, and an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction who will oversee learning together with Rendell. Florida Today. School board members said they are considering taking on the role of deciding whether challenged books are removed or kept on school library shelves. They said members of the district’s book review committee are “taking a beating” from members of the public about their decisions. Another option to end the abuse would be to direct public comments about the book review process to school board members instead of committee members. Florida Today.
Sarasota: A tentative contract agreement has been reached between newly named school superintendent Terry Connor and negotiators for the school board. It includes a base salary of $255,000 a year, with a total of $30,000 in potential incentives, tax-deferred compensation, life insurance, cellphone and laptop stipends, reimbursement for expenses and transportation, and moving expenses up to $15,000. If Connor is fired without cause, he’ll be entitled to 20 weeks of severance pay. Both Connor and the school board must approve the contract. If they do, Connor will be sworn in July 17. Charlotte Sun. Connor isn’t officially the superintendent yet, but he’s already been named in a lawsuit against the district. The suit alleges that a school bus driver did nothing to stop a sexual assault of a minor by several other students in November 2021. WWSB.
Leon: An independent investigation has disclosed that the former head football coach of Chiles High School violated district policy by having at least one player on the team living out of zone, that the lease presented to Chiles as proof of residency was not a “bonafide lease and contains a falsified signature,” and used inappropriate language and engaged in conduct targeting students. The ex-coach, Kevin Pettis, denied all allegations of wrongdoing and called the investigation a “targeted witch hunt.” The findings are being forwarded to the Florida High School Athletic Association for review. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.
Charlotte: School board members have allowed Meadow Park Elementary School principal Matt Loge to resign instead of going through the termination process after he was accused of sexually harassing an employee at the school. Loge allegedly texted the woman before, during and after school, often commented on her appearance, and referred to her as “princess.” He had been placed on administrative leave May 8. Charlotte Sun.
Colleges and universities: A former student at Full Sail University in Winter Park has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for hitting a police officer with a skateboard during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Grady Douglas Owens, 22, of Blanco, Texas, was arrested in April of that year at the college. He pleaded guilty in November to assaulting law enforcement officers and disorderly conduct, and was sentenced Friday to 37 months in prison. Orlando Sentinel. State Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-St. Cloud, signed a three-year contract Monday to become president of South Florida State College. He’ll be paid $250,000 a year, and also receive a $10,000 annual housing allowance, $12,000 a year for the “in-district use” of his personal automobile “in lieu of travel reimbursement,” and up to $10,000 for relocation expenses. News Service of Florida. What does a university do when a professor it considers “toxic” is fired for controversial statements, then ordered reinstated? Meet Charles Negy, a psychology professor at the University of Central Florida who was fired in 2021 and reinstated in 2022. Washington Post.
Scholarships and testing: A quarter of merit-based scholarships in the United States, including Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarships, still require students to submit SAT or ACT scores to be eligible, according to a new report from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. The organization is calling for an end to the requirement. Inside Higher Ed.
Explaining the ‘woke’: Initial reviews of social studies textbooks under consideration for use in Florida show many being initially flagged by reviewers who mischaracterized basic facts as biased, inappropriate, or ideological. In one case, a reviewer objected to “photographs and graphics include homosexual and heterosexual couples,” claiming that the photos of “non-traditional families” were a violation of the Florida requirement that the material be presented “objectively” and is “free of bias.” Others were initially rejected for references to LGBTQ court cases, lesbianism and abortion rights, and images of slavery. Popular Information.
Around the nation: A lower court ruling that a North Carolina charter school cannot require girls to wear skirts to school will stand after the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal of the decision. The lower court had also ruled that charter schools are “state actors” that work on behalf of public school districts. Attorneys general in 10 states, but not Florida, had asked the justices to intervene. K-12 Dive. Associated Press. Politico. Education Week. Chalkbeat.
Opinions on schools: The latest long-term trend in NAEP testing results has brought more bad news, with significant declines in both math and reading. The news gets worse when you examine achievement gaps. Unhappy parents should consider making alternate educational plans. Millions have already done so, and the flight to freedom is just getting warmed up. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Florida education choice scholarships gave me and my siblings something we previously lacked – opportunity. The personal instruction and challenging curriculum we received at the private school of our choice inspired and motivated us, and ultimately lifted us out of poverty and put us on the road to success. Now, with the new law, families will have even more options to guide their children’s education. Hera Varmah, Florida Courier. Charter schools expand options for all students, and also opportunity for those students who most need and least often have it. Policymakers should embrace these research findings and seize the moment to fix charter funding flaws, ensuring quality public schools have the resources they need to grow and serve more students. Jeb Bush, The Columbian.